What is Aerobic Performance? How Do I Start?

What is Aerobic Performance?

If you’ve been following me within the last year, you’ve probably seen me post on my Instagram or Facebook story a screenshot of my runs from the Garmin app. Most of those screenshots include the caption “Base” or “Aerobic Base” to indicate the type of workout. The reasoning behind the title is that I not only like to let folks know what I’m doing but also educate viewers that not all runs are fast runs. In fact, most of my runs are done at a lower intensity with the goal of building up my aerobic performance (also known as endurance).

What is Endurance?
“the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina”
Source: www.dictionary.com

When I read that, I translate that to the ability to sustain an activity for an extended period of time despite fatigue. The cousin to aerobic performance is known as anaerobic performance. The best way to differentiate the two is to think of aerobic is low intensity (jog) and anaerobic is high intensity (sprint). Now that we’ve identified the differences, I want to focus on aerobic performance as I believe it is the foundation to developing into a healthy runner and/or overall wellness. The purpose of this article is to educate readers on how to approach a healthy lifestyle without feeling completely drained all the time and minimizing the risk of injury. One of the most common reasons why people quit their “fitness journey” is due to injury and that’s typically due to going too hard too soon. In this article, I will provide an example workout on how to build your aerobic performance, provide metrics to track, show you how to track them and your progress.

Before jumping into an example workout, I’d like to note that the workout can easily be customized to match where you’re currently at from a fitness standpoint. If it’s been a while since you’ve worked out (more than 30 days), I would consider starting off with daily walks (15-30 minutes) for 30 days to get your body acclimated to movement. I wouldn’t be concerned on the time of day and more so think of a time that fits best for your schedule. If something is easy to do, you’re more likely to continue the habit post 30 days. Ok, let’s jump into the workout example!

Workout – Aerobic Base
Duration: 1 Hour
Terrain: Road
Low Intensity: ~90%
High Intensity: ~10%

First Half – 5 Rounds:
5 minutes @ Aerobic Pace
1 minute @ Race Pace
No Breaks in Between Rounds
Total Time: 30 minutes

Second Half – 1 Round:
30 minutes @ Aerobic Pace
Total Time: 30 minutes

You might be asking yourself, what is the difference between aerobic pace and race pace? I’m going to show you two different ways to track whether you’re within aerobic pace or race pace. While it’s difficult to determine what you’re pace (speed) is without a running watch, I try my best to listen to what my body is saying. You can do this by first understanding the zones you’re working in. Once we have a clear understanding of zones then we can understand pace.

Ventilatory Thresholds

In the image above, I’d like to focus your attention on the minute ventilation line. You’ll see that there’s two arrows pointing to the red line and I want you to think of those arrows as the barriers to the next zone. Anything before VT1 would be considered Zone 1, anything between VT1 and VT2 is Zone 2, and anything past VT2 is Zone 3.

How to Think of Zones:
• Zone 1 – Aerobic Pace – This is where you build your aerobic performance (fat burning zone)
• Zone 2 – Race Pace – Commonly known as the “dead” zone but has shown benefits towards anaerobic performance
• Zone 3 – Sprint Pace – This is where you build your anaerobic performance (sugar burning zone)

Track Your Pace Without a Watch – The Talk Test:
• Zone 1 – You can carry a conversation easily at this pace
• Zone 2 – You can talk but it’s difficult
• Zone 3 – Unable to speak

One thing you’ll notice in the graph is that the green line increases exponentially once you hit VT2. Your heart rate is pumping at its highest rate and the pace can only be held for a short period of time. So let’s go back to the workout and break down the zones you’ll be working within. The first half includes a total of 25 minutes at aerobic pace (zone 1) and 5 minutes at race pace (zone 2). The second half is all staying within that aerobic pace (zone 1). The reason why I include a few burst of race pace in the first half is because I want to allow my muscles to open up which typically leads me to have a slightly quicker pace in the second half while staying within my aerobic heart rate zone. I typically will do this workout the day before and after my hard days as a way to shake out any lactic acid and speed up recovery.

Track Your Pace With a Watch – Heart Rate Monitor:
If you have a running watch and/or chest strap, you’re at an advantage because you’ll receive accurate data around your heart rate that’ll indicate if you should dial up or down. I highly recommend purchasing a basic running watch and chest strap if you’re starting out as they provide great value and will help prevent you from going too hard too fast (reduce the risk of injury). At the bottom of this article, I’ve provided a few links of tools you can use to help get you started. Ok, so let’s go back to how the watch can help you determine where you need to be.

I live by the MAF 180 Formula to not only understand my max aerobic heart rate (the fastest your heart should be beating to increase aerobic performance) but also to maximize fat burn and minimize sugar burn. The reason why you want to burn fat versus sugar is because you have an endless supply of fat in your body versus the limited amount of energy your body can store from sugar. Anyone who’s ever done a long run and experienced “the bonk” knows the feeling of hitting a wall and just not having energy to proceed. I like to keep that sugar in my back pocket for hills and/or the end of a race when I need to speed up.

The MAF 180 Formula:
180 – YOUR AGE = Max Aerobic Heart Rate
Example: 180 – 33 = 147 Beats Per Minute (BPMs)

This means that if my goal is to build my aerobic base that the highest my heart rate should be is 147 BPMs. You might be asking yourself about the quick burst in the workout where we’re running at race pace. Yes, your heart rate will exceed the max aerobic heart rate but that is for a short period of time. The high intensity percentage of the workout is 10% of the overall workout. The second half of the workout can be viewed as a cruise and typically I see my heart rate lower as I’m warmed up and have already opened up the muscles with the strides. My goal at the end of these workouts is to look at the average heart rate and try to be right at 147 BPMs.

Now let’s look at this workout done in two different scenarios.

Example 1 – June 14th:

June Example

Example 2 – August 2nd:

August Example

The examples above are a perfect example of where focusing on your aerobic base can pay dividends. In example 1, you will see that I only covered 5.7 miles and my average heart rate was at 160 BPMs. In example 2, you will see that I covered 6.26 miles while keeping my heart rate at 147 BPMs. The second data point I want to focus on is the calorie expenditure. I burned 82 calories less in example 2 while going farther and faster. The reason why this is happening is because my body is becoming more efficient in burning fuel therefore I don’t have to eat as much as my performance increases. The last data point I want to point out is how efficient my heart is working in example 2 versus 1. After my strides in example 2, you will see that my heart rate drops now problem. In example 1, it looks like my heart rate stays higher without the variability. This is a key indicator that I should have slowed down on June 14th. I would consider the run on June 14th a wash as I went too hard and spent the majority of the time in the “dead” zone. When it comes to daily training, I always make my hard days hard and my easy days easy. Allow your body to recover and enjoy the easy days so you can dial up in the next session.

The Goal:
So what’s the point in all of this? I’ve talked about pace, zones, workouts, and data points but how can I know if I’m getting better. The best way to know if you’re getting better is by going farther and faster without working as hard. The examples above are an image of how you can run faster and farther without burning as much energy. You can do this by working within zone 1 and not exceeding your max aerobic heart rate. Keep in mind that this is solely focused on building your aerobic performance. Allow yourself to run slow at first and watch yourself slowly speed up overtime.

In the next article, I will discuss anaerobic performance and how this plays a role into your overall health. I’ll discuss an example workout, zone percentage splits, and programming. I hope you found this article helpful and didn’t lose you along the way. Feel free to drop me an email or DM on socials with any comments, questions, or suggestions for future articles.

Stay up!

Product Links:
Basic Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 35: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01KPUHBK6/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B01KPUHBK6&linkCode=as2&tag=unavida0d-20&linkId=171bd950dfb432697a4e81625c2020a1

Intermediate Running Watch – Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QLVHBLF/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B07QLVHBLF&linkCode=as2&tag=unavida0d-20&linkId=287bc9f5658738ab7e4ebf07c354cfaa

Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor (I use this one) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012H8IPQS/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B012H8IPQS&linkCode=as2&tag=unavida0d-20&linkId=5d2d7fc0b80c397d7205b2813bb3658d